LONDON — The U.K. Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that a Christian family that operates a bakery in Northern Ireland did not discriminate against a homosexual man in declining to create a “support gay marriage” cake, as they would have turned down the request of any customer who desired the message, no matter who they were.
“[T]he bakers did not refuse to fulfill [Lee’s] order because of his sexual orientation. They would have refused to make such a cake for any customer, irrespective of their sexual orientation,” announced Lady Brenda Hale, president of the court, on behalf of the panel.
“Their objection was to the message on the cake, not to the personal characteristics of Mr. Lee or of anyone else with whom he was associated,” she said. “… Accordingly, this court holds that there was no discrimination on the grounds of the sexual orientation of Mr. Lee or anyone else with whom he was associated.”
As previously reported, in May 2014, Ashers Baking Company—named after Genesis 49:20—was approached by a same-sex “marriage” supporter to bake a cake that was to feature the phrase “support gay marriage,” as well as the logo for the homosexual advocacy group QueerSpace. According to the Belfast Telegraph, the cake was for an event in observance of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.
Karen McArthur, the mother of General Manager Daniel McArthur, initially accepted the order as she didn’t want the man to feel embarrassed. But as the matter was discussed with other family members, it was agreed upon that the bakery could not go through with putting the message on the cake in good conscience before God.
Daniel McArthur told reporters that the company contacted the customer and offered a refund, explaining that same-sex “marriage” is against their Christian beliefs.
However, the customer, Gareth Lee, soon reported Ashers Baking Company to the Equality Commission of Northern Ireland, which in turn sent a warning to to McArthur, stating that he and his bakery had discriminated against Lee.
In November 2015, the Commission ordered the bakery to pay compensation or face legal action. As the McArthurs refused, the case moved forward in court. Judge Isobel Brownlie then ruled against the McArthurs, declaring them “guilty of unlawful discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation,” and ordered the bakers to damages equating to nearly $800 U.S. dollars.
“This is direct discrimination for which there can be no justification,” Brownlie said. “The defendants are not a religious organization. They are conducting a business for profit and, notwithstanding their genuine religious beliefs, there are no exceptions available under the 2006 regulations which apply to this case.”
Ashers Baking Company has stated that has no issue with serving homosexuals in general—it had served Lee before and would serve him again—but it should not be forced to decorate cakes with messages that urge others to “support gay marriage” in violation of God’s law.
“This has never been about the customer. It has been about a message promoting a cause that contradicts the Bible,” McArthur said.
The McArthur’s therefore appealed the ruling, and the case went back to court. In October 2016, the Belfast Court of Appeals concluded that although it is true that the McArthurs did not know Lee’s sexual identity, the bakery still “discriminated against the respondent directly on the grounds of sexual orientation contrary to the Equality Act Regulations 2006″ for not printing the requested message.
The family consequently appealed to the U.K. Supreme Court. On Tuesday, the court overturned the lower court rulings, agreeing with the McArthurs that the bakery did not refuse to serve a man because he was homosexual, but rather because they could not print a specific message on the cake, no matter who requested it.
“The evidence was that the bakers were quite willing to employ and to serve gay people,” Hale stated. ” … The bakers could not refuse to supply their goods to Mr. Lee because he was a gay man or supported gay marriage, but that is quite different from obliging them to supply a cake iced with a message with which they profoundly disagreed.”
She also noted that the court has previously held that no citizen should be forced to express a political opinion that they do not believe.
“This conclusion is not in any way to diminish the need to protect gay people and people who support gay marriage from discrimination. It is deeply humiliating, and an affront to human dignity, to deny someone a service because of that person’s race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion or belief,” Hale added. “But that is not what happened in this case.”
View Hale’s comments in full below.
Ashers Baking Company General Manager Daniel McArthur delivered a speech from the courthouse steps following the ruling, thanking God and the bakery’s supporters.
“I want to start by thanking God. He has been with us during the challenges of the last four years. Through the Bible and the support of Christians, He has comforted us and sustained us. He is our rock and all His ways are just,” he said.
“We’re delighted and relieved at today’s ruling,” McArthur stated. “We always knew we hadn’t done anything wrong in turning down this order. After more than four years, the Supreme Court has now recognized that and we’re very grateful—grateful to the judges and especially grateful to God.”
He said that he was relieved that the court was able to understand the bakery’s argument that it did not decline the order because of the man’s homosexuality, but because of what he asked them to write on the cake.
“We’re particularly pleased the Supreme Court emphatically accepted what we’ve said all along: We did not turn down this order because of the person who made it, but because of the message itself,” McArthur declared. “The judges have given a clear signal today. In fact, it couldn’t be any clearer. Family businesses like ours are free to focus on giving all their customers the best service they can— without being forced to promote other people’s campaigns.”